Psychology degrees can offer a variety of career opportunities and a chance to make an impact on thousands of lives. The mental health field is both rewarding and challenging. However, there are a few things to consider and questions you need to ask yourself before deciding to major in psychology. And since education is so expensive these days, choosing the area of study that’s right for you is critical. No one wants to spend money on a degree that they either don’t use or end up hating their career choice. My purpose is not to discourage you but to offer realistic expectations and a little advice based on nearly 20 years of experience.
1. The pay may not be what you expect.
A bachelor’s degree in psychology will not land you a high paying job. Many entry level positions pay just above minimum wage. Psychology graduates often have to take positions working in group homes and other residential treatment facilities to gain work experience. Staff who work in these facilities are often subject to verbal and physical aggression. My first job was in a psychiatric hospital and it was a complete culture shock for me. And the pay was just too embarrassing to mention. Positions with a Bachelor’s degree and some experience (about a 1-2 years) will likely pay between $25,000- $30,000 a year.
2. Do you plan to further your education?
If the answer is no, then your career opportunities may be limited. One of my advisors told me in order to advance in this field; a Master’s degree would be required. There are plenty of opportunities with the undergraduate degree but a graduate degree will set you apart from other candidates. Most leadership or supervisory positions will require a Master’s degree in psychology or other human services related field. If you want to become licensed and go into private practice, you will also need a graduate degree.
3. How well do you handle stress?
A little stress is involved in just about every profession. However, psychology jobs will involve working with people who suffer from mental illness or an intellectual disability. These conditions often include verbal and physical aggression directed toward staff. You could be subject to being cursed out or physically attacked regardless of your position or status.
You will often work with people in crisis situations. The ability to stay calm and handle stressful situations will determine your success in this field. This skill will improve as you gain more experience.
4. Do you enjoy writing? (I mean really enjoy writing)
The mental health field and really any medical field will require a great deal of writing. Writing skills are important because your documentation will be tied to billing which of course is how you will be compensated. You will gain experience writing progress notes, reports, assessments, and treatment plans.
During the course of your studies, you will also have to do a significant amount of writing. The field of psychology involves a great deal of research and writing experimental papers. These skills will help you as you transition into the workforce.
5. Are you a people person?
It seems pretty obvious but psychology graduates tend to obtain employment in “Human Services” departments and interact with people of all backgrounds on a daily basis. Developing good written and verbal communication skills are critical to being successful in this field. In addition, psychology grads must have the ability to listen and show empathy to the people they serve.